The cancellation of an LGBT Pride festival in Edmonton, Canada is both shocking and cause for concern.
It comes in the same year that Pride festivals around the world celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots – a key moment in the history of LGBTI rights both in North America and wider world.
The board of of Edmonton Pride posted a statement yesterday saying, ‘It is with heavy hearts that we inform you that the Board of Directors has voted to cancel the 2019 Edmonton Pride Festival.
‘In light of the current political and social environment, it has been determined that any attempt to host a Festival will not be successful.
‘It has always been the goal of the Edmonton Pride Festival Society to host a safe and enjoyable event that is as reflective and encompassing of the entire community as possible, however given current events, we do not feel that this is attainable for this year.’
The event was scheduled to take place 8 June.
Many people in anti-gay countries cannot attend Pride
Here at Gay Star News, we report on Pride events across the globe. Campaigners attempting to organize Pride festivals in places such as Lebanon, Uganda and Turkey may meet the news that those in this part of Canada don’t feel ‘safe’ with some surprise.
Indeed, when countries ban Pride parades or use force to disrupt them, they may roll their eyes at such an assertion.
However, this isn’t about not feeling safe to hold a Pride festival per se. Those inside the organization have told local press this the decision was driven by ‘politics within the community and not provincial politics.’
In short, this comes about due to infighting between community groups.
Banning police and military groups
Some LGBTI groups have been pushing Edmonton Pride to ban the participation of police or military personnel in uniform. Edmonton Pride has seemingly resisted these requests. Despite lengthy negotiations, the two sides appear to have reached an impasse. The result is Edmonton Pride’s cancellation.
Some people will blame those pushing to ban the police and military. The groups concerned are blaming Pride for simply giving up.
‘It is with profound disappointment that we express our appallment at the actions carried out by the Edmonton Pride Festival Society [EPFS],’ said a statement from Shades of Color Community YEG.
‘We are calling this decision for what it is: namely, a disavowal of deep systematic problems in the framework of EPFS as well as an attempt to dismiss, target, and put out of play the efforts put on the part of Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour in the LGBTQ2S+ to point towards alternatives on how this organization carries out its activities.’
On Pride’s side, it’s worth remembering the event is run ‘almost solely by volunteers.’ There’s only so much time and energy to a cause the majority of volunteers are willing to give.
Why so disappointing?
I’ve never been to Edmonton, Canada, so why am I upset?
I think it’s lamentable for any Pride festival to be cancelled. During my time in LGBTI media, I’ve witnessed countless Pride festivals run into trouble. But it’s usually due to financial difficulties, mismanagement, or pressure from anti-LGBT authorities.
That squabbles between community groups result in the cancellation of a Pride festival is… well, nothing to be proud about.
I remember the feeling I had when I attended my first ever Pride. It blew my mind to realize there were so many other LGBTI people in the world.
I think of all the LGBTI people who may have attended their first ever Pride this summer in Edmonton. They will now be denied that privilege. And it is a privilege when millions elsewhere in the world are denied that opportunity.
The cancellation also comes on the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots. Many view the riots in NYC as the birth of the Pride movement. The commemorative march that took place in New York a year after Stonewall was the first such demonstration of Pride.
It also happens to mark the 50th anniversary of the decriminalization of gay sex between adults in private in Canada.
That Edmonton Pride will not go ahead in a year marking two such milestones makes this all the sadder.
I know what it’s like to feel unsafe in public as a gay person. Vile, homophobic attacks still take place here in the UK. But as a cis, white gay man, I cannot pretend to truly understand how those from other minority groups feel unsafe around the police. For this reason, I listen when people of color, refugees and others speak up about their concerns.
I do not know the details of the negotiations that have taken place between the Pride organizers and community groups, or what compromises have been discussed. But an inability or unwillingness to reach a compromise is particularly disappointing in such a landmark year.
I’ve been on more Pride marches than I care to remember. If I never go on another Pride march again, I won’t feel I’m missing out. But my heart goes out to those who are now being denied that opportunity.
Many regard Canada as one of the more liberal, LGBTI-friendly, welcoming and chilled-out countries in the world. I hope something might still be worked out for this year’s event, or an alternative event takes its place.
Follow David Hudson on Twitter at @davidhudson_uk